I enrolled in graduate school in 2008, just in time for the economy to collapse around me. As a journalism student, the once-burgeoning industry I planned to make a life with became a giant hemophiliac. Drastic cuts to the newsroom meant I needed to think outside the box at potential fulltime employment.
I moved over to the “dark side” of PR and that brought a new set of insecurities.
The problem with writing – and by extension, communications/journalism/PR/marketing/*insert word of the week here* — is that the industry is dominated by soft skills. If you go to medical school, you come out and become a doctor. Only a foolish person would believe they can pick up a scalpel and operate. The barriers to entry are high and with the exception of the absolutely egregious error, respect for doctors is also high.
This is not the case with communicators.
The dirty secret is that everyone thinks they can do this job. Pounding away on the keyboard doesn’t make one a writer any more than dribbling a basketball in the backyard makes one a pro ball player.
The even dirtier secret is that while not everyone can write well, some people who have made careers in this industry aren’t good writers either – which is truly a shame.
The dirtiest secret of all is that most writing – with the exception of fiction – doesn’t have to be dazzling prose to get its point across (though, it helps). I offered some tips on becoming a good writer before, but here are a few more that can be implemented today.
Get an editor – and a GOOD one
When I say editor, I’m not talking about someone who sits in a newsroom all day. I’m talking about someone razor-sharp with grammar that will catch things you fail to spot and can suggest alternate ways of saying things. At one of my old jobs, the office manager was the best editor in the building. You absolutely need someone like this on your team or accessible. An error on a document is like finding a fly in a three-course meal: Ugly and no longer edible.
Keep a steady flow of ideas
Communicators are nothing without ideas. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we traffic in the innovative – or at least what hasn’t been done in some time. Look at what other people are doing for inspiration. Sometimes, you can replicate it with your own twist. Other times, you’ll need to go in the opposite directions. Your ideas – or your resourcefulness at mining the ideas of others – will make you stand out.
WRITE. THINGS. PEOPLE. WANT. TO. READ.
This is all capped for a reason. Your colleague’s stellar editing and your best ideas go up in flames if people can’t, won’t or don’t read what you write. As a graduate student, I used to think that academics were at war with engaging writing (most academics will readily tell you that academic writing is dry. I’m not slandering the profession, but it doesn’t have to be that way).
- A catchy headline or subject goes a long way
- Organize your thoughts before writing
- Be engaging (talk to people, not at them)
- Practice. Practice. Practice
Writing well is as much a science as an art. You may not be the next Pulitzer winner or best seller, but you can write things that make readers not feel like they’re wading through quicksand to read.